Sebastian Vettel is beginning to believe that he has all but sealed a third F1 world championship, and admits that it would be nice to wrap it up at his 100th grand prix.
The German appeared to have allowed main rival Fernando Alonso a glimpse of a reprieve when he stopped on track at the end of qualifying on Saturday evening. The ensuing technical checks failed to provide an adequate fuel sample for the scrutineers and Vettel was put to the back of the grid. After opting to start from the pit-lane following a series of set-up changes, the Red Bull came scorching through the field, eventually claiming third place, one spot behind Alonso.
What began as a damage limitation exercise resulted in just a three-point cut in Vettel's championship advantage, leaving him ten ahead with two rounds remaining, and, on the podium, the German gave the first acknowledgement that the title is his for the taking.
“Obviously, we see how quickly things can change,” he insisted, “Yesterday was a surprise for us and, [had] we have started from third, it would have been a different race. But, yeah, it was obviously a chance to f*ck it up and we didn't do that, so I think we can be very proud today - we got the maximum.
“We lost only a very little bit, I think we have the momentum still, the car is bloody quick, so we're looking forward to the next two races. We are definitely believing in [the title] and that's the target.”
Confident in the car beneath him, and the team guiding him from the pit-wall, Vettel maintained that he always felt that he could make the top three, despite not getting into the race until after the field had cleared turn one.
“After the first couple of laps, that target was drifting a little bit away, as I had a messy start to the race [and] damaged my front wing,” he reflected, “And then, [behind] the safety car, I had a little bit of a big mistake with Daniel [Ricciardo], who was stopping his car on the straights.
“I turned to the right and, if it would have been 50m earlier [or] 50m later, I wouldn't have done damage to my front wing further but, after that, I said to myself 'yeah, either we go full attack or nothing'. So that's what we did and I had a fantastic race. It's hard enough to fight your way once through the field, but we did it twice today…”
“Obviously the safety cars here and there helped and, after that, at the end it was a nice fight with Jenson. He was difficult to pass. I expected to have a little bit easier time because obviously I was passing the slower cars before and, with him, I was struggling a bit. Then I just squeezed my way past into turn eleven, and it's very nice to pick up a trophy and drink some champagne.”